Story and photos by Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – The percussive thumping of a Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter ricocheted through the bowl at Big Sky Resort on July 26. Throughout the day the pilot long-lined nearly 70 yards of concrete in precise, three-minute trips from the base area to sites of 14 future lift towers.
The towers will support a new Doppelmayr six-person high-speed detachable chairlift, with heated seats and bubble enclosures. This is one of two lift projects underway at the resort this summer, with the old Challenger double being replaced by a Doppelmayr conveyor-loading triple chair.
The new, yet-to-be-named bowl lift will whisk riders to the top in three minutes—half the previous ride time—and the Challenger ride will be cut from 12 to nine minutes. Both chairlifts are planned to be operational by Thanksgiving, Big Sky Resort’s official opening day.
“This [project] will truly modernize these lifts,” said Mike Unruh, director of mountain operations. “They’ll be the best money can buy. This will further ensure that we don’t have lift lines, and the comfort level will absolutely be the best it can be.”
The resort’s mountain operations team is also re-grading the unload areas of each lift this summer to accommodate the 30-50 percent increase in uphill capacity. The new bowl six-pack will feature an 1,800-rider-per hour capacity and the Challenger triple will be able to transport 1,200 riders an hour.
The unload area at the top of the bowl will allow skiers and riders to exit in either direction—left toward the bowl or right toward Upper Morningstar and the Lone Peak Tram. Unruh does not believe this increased rider capacity will have an adverse effect on the tram experience for skiers and riders.
“If anything it will allow people to get to the tram a little bit earlier in the morning,” he said. “I think we’ll see more skiers in the bowl, but largely in those areas we’re able to groom.”
Two new groomed runs have been graded into the bowl terrain, one starting beneath First Gully and providing a corduroy exit from The Bowl; the other crossing under the lift line from Upper Morningstar. The loading area has also been moved uphill to reduce congestion at the base of the lift.
The Lone Peak Triple was one of the original lifts built for Big Sky Resort’s 1973 opening season, and “had served its economic lifespan,” according to Unruh. Challenger was also on the long-term list of future improvements until it closed due to mechanical issues midway through last season.
“That lift did have some challenges this spring and that simply accelerated the timeline,” Unruh said.
The $9 million project is the first major lift installation at the resort since the Dakota Triple was built in 2007.
Visit bigskyresort.com/newlifts for updates on the lift construction project at Big Sky Resort.